Freedom isn't free
When I wrote about being a recovering political junkie a couple of weeks ago, I briefly touched on the little convoy of trucks heading still for Ottawa. It is fair to say that in the days since then, things have escalated. For over a week, the small-but-loud convoy has ballooned into a full-out occupation of Canada’s capital city - with the outstated goal of ending mandates, restrictions, and other measures related to the pandemic in order to restore rights and freedoms.
“The goal is to regain freedom in Canada,” said Brigitte Belton, a trucker who has been regularly making TikTok videos about the convoy… “It seems that Mr. Trudeau thinks that our rights and freedoms can be taken at any point in time.”
Regardless of whether you believe the convoy, protest, occupation, and every person participating is good, bad, or something in between, there are a few indisputable elements bubbling up. From the horrendous views and outspoken opinions of some organizers, to the overt symbols of hatred proudly on display by some small groups in the crowd(s), to the questionable funding schemes and sources, across-the-board condemnation from union groups, and vocal support from America’s hard-right-wing politicians, the core message of “freedom” for Canadians is having trouble staying in focus.
There’s also the undeniable element of how the occupation has been treated by law enforcement when compared to protests, blockades, and occupations by people in Canada who don’t look like the leadership of this particular event. It is worth mentioning that while the protests in Ottawa aren’t entirely composed of white guys, they certainly haven’t been organized, lead, or dominated by anyone else.
Let’s talk about freedom
“I firmly believe that, Canada being a free country, we should be allowed to make our own choices,” said McLeod, who is Otter Clan and also goes by the traditional name Odemin Kwe. “We should not be forced to do anything we don’t believe in.”
The biggest thing that has stood out to me during this entire media cycle and round of heated public discussions is: what fucking freedom?
Before you close this tab or start chewing me out on Twitter - I am not talking about the “TREUDOPE IS A COMMIE” kind of perspective. To be very, very clear, he is not. We do not have a substantial communist party in Canada - or even a major left-wing political presence, for that matter. The Liberal party is a centrist, pro-capital, business-first party. They are much the same as the Conservative party, except for their spoken-but-not-acted-on socially progressive views (as opposed to the latter’s spoken-AND-acted-on regressive views). Our NDP is slightly left-oriented, by comparison, but we’ve never given them the opportunity to show us whether or not they would act on their declared ideology.
So no, I’m not talking about that kind of flag-waving “freedom” - just in case you’re wondering. I’m referring more to the existential freedom hinted at by the Indegenous protestor, quoted from APTN above, while she touched on her ancestral teachings:
“When you walk with an open heart, you will learn to walk in harmony,” she said. “We all want the same common goal. We want our freedoms. We want to be able to protect our waters, our lands. We want our other children that are still yet to be brought home, brought home.”
I can not pretend to know all the teachings and specific history she’s citing, but I can very much agree that “harmony”, “protect[ing] our waters [and] lands”, and the ability to raise and provide good homes for existing and future generations are the kind of freedoms I very much agree with.
I also think that’s the very idea of freedom that we very much do not have.
What about ‘Murica!?
Americans - or at least the caricature we generally see of them from outside their borders - love to go on and on about their freedoms. They have fought and died to gain and keep them, apparently, and they’ll happily continue to do just that. Once again, I have to ask: what fucking freedom?
Do we have the freedom to choose which fast-food or chain restaurant we want to exchange money for something approximating food at? Sure. Do we have the freedom to shop at one of a handful of big box stores, where we can choose which brand of TV, clothing, and phone we want? Sure, I guess. Do we have the freedom to pick whichever source of “news” and entertainment we want to indoctrinate ourselves with? Yeah, for better or for worse.
But do we have the freedom to choose what we want to do for a living? Some of us, maybe. Do we have the freedom to pursue leisure, creativity, learning, and other activities that fuel and inspire us? Not really - not all of us, anyway. Do we have the freedom of knowing that our next meal, medical visit, rent cheque, car payment, childcare expense, and source of entertainment will be covered without us having to stress over the source of the funds and outcome of choosing one over the other? For most of us, not at all.
Do we have the freedom to drop out of the system where we throw away 40+ years of our lives in order to make money for someone who could not care less about us? No, not really. Do we have the freedom to enjoy the beauty of the natural world around us, unrestricted by ridiculous notions of “private property” or land development carving everything up? Not one bit. Do we have the freedom to know that our land, water, and future will exist in harmony with the world around us, and that we can raise a family and contribute to a community off of that land and water, without destroying any of it?
No. Absolutely not. Not in the world of retail “freedom” we’ve built for ourselves, anyway. Even if a few of us enjoy a few freedoms, no one is truly free until we all are.
What am I getting at?
When the current occupation of Ottawa talks about “freedom”, I think of it the same way as I think of a politician talking about “the economy”. None of it matters, really. It’s all an illusion and it does not help anyone - except for the tiny handful of folks who already have power and control over the rest of us.
All of the current talk about antagonzing the locals, causing division among Canadians, and staunch political lines is not important in the context of real freedom. Like “debates” around immigration, generational divides, or the urban/rural split, it is all just another set of tools to keep us squabbling.
When I say “us”, I mean the amalgamation of folks in poverty, those who barely scrape by, the working poor, the middle classes, and even those who make a pretty decent living. We are all in the same world and “freedom” has never been a part of it - at least not since our species has had a ruling class.
So, the next time you get riled up about the freedom protests and find yourself in an argument with someone else - whether you’re for or against the current situation* - remember what’s really happening. You aren’t arguing about the freedom to live a high quality life of health, peace, and leisure. You’re arguing about what label is best on the slop that the ruling classes see fit to let us have access to.
Maybe if we stop looking at the freedom to go shopping and instead examine the freedom (for ALL of us) to live a life with more meaning and less misery, we’ll actually be able to achieve something. Remember - this is what the rulers do not want. That’s why they work so hard to make sure we spend our time squabbling and forming camps, instead of standing up and working together.
Every single one of us should absolutely be angry, confused, exhausted, and scared. But we’re mistaken when we take it out on one another.
*Obviously, if you (or the other person) are arguing that people who don’t look like you/them, love the same people, come from the same culture, share the same beliefs, have the same abilities, or express their gender in the same way somehow deserve less rights, freedoms, or quality of life, you (or that person) are a complete asshole and I highly recommend returning to your/their favourite position of head planted firmly up one’s own ass.